Missing the picture and missing the point?

The city I live is celebrating its 1100th anniversary. Things in Germany are pretty old, even the new ones ;-)

Light Cube - Garching 1100 years (photo: Gerald Förtsch - Merkur.de)

Light Cube – Garching 1100 years (photo: Gerald Förtsch – Merkur.de)

There will be events all year and for the opening they made a party at the main square, and for that they brought a “cube of light” (see the picture above). Well, a cube of light is something worth shooting!! Of course!! (not with a bunch of people in front).

The cube stayed after the party and I assumed it would be there for long, if not for the whole year.

The buildings in the back of the square are all colored with tones varying from ocher to green. The cube in the front would be the perfect foreground for the buildings. Nice HDR shot! Yey!!!! For the background I wanted a nice blue hour. I would probably have to do an additional very short exposure shot to get the cube with proper colors.

That’s where the problem started! Nice foreground, lit when it starts getting dark (the cube), nice middle-ground, which I could get the colors with HDR, but the background was never there! It was always cloudy. I decided to wait for “tomorrow’s nice weather”. Days went on and on …

One day I had just finished putting the kids in bed and my wife showed me that despite the couple of clouds, there would be a nice moonrise! OK! Not a crystal clear blue hour, but much better, some clouds illuminated by the moon!!! I grabbed my gear and ran to the square.

To my surprise, when I got to the spot I had previously selected I noticed the cube was no longer there!!!! They had it removed during the weekend!!!! Sad thing. I waited so long that the target vanished!! Since I was there I took some shots, they miss the foreground element (I’ll put them here, when I’m done with them – haven’t started them yet ;-) ).

Bottom line. It would probably have been better to have the shot, even with a bad sky in the back, then not having the shot at all …

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HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers

Another book “review”, another HDR book … see a trend here? :-)

Rick Sammon - HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers

Rick Sammon – HDR Photography Secrets for Digital Photographers

HDR is something that interest me a lot. I’ve been trying to get good at it for a while. I’ll make it, someday. Meanwhile I try to collect as much information as I can and the recent books are a great source for that goal.

While Trey Ratcliff gives you the story behind the shot, Rick Sammon takes a different approach, a more technical approach on how to shoot for HDR and how to process the shots for the final image.

The book talks about High Dynamical Range by itself, independent of technic (using bracketed shots, single shots …), and how to expand the dynamical range of whatever shot you’re working with.

Gear tips, how to shoot and post-processing techniques.

On the post-processing Rick Sammon does not go into the details of each slider, specially good, since most of the sliders have changed since the book was written, but gives you a feeling of what each software is capable of. Photomatix, Topaz Adjust, Photoshop/Camera Raw/Lightroom and Lucis Pro are the options presented and give you hints on where to go to your final goal. Lots of comparison images make reading the book a very rich experience: Before and After’s, processing progressions and cross comparison between techniques and plug-ins. As a photography book should be, the book is dominated by images.

Also some very handy information on how to create HDR panoramas and B&W images from a base HDR.

But more than that, in the same way as Trey’s book, Rick’s images help you build an image library inside your head!

Worth reading it!

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Gear protection is an important issue nowadays. As for any stuff, if somebody steals something, is because somebody will buy it later, even without knowing it.


To try to prevent or at least reduce gear theft, Lenstag is the service around. Not a new thing, it’s already around for more than an year, but I just really got to it now.

The service was created by Google engineer Trevor Sehrer and is growing on a daily basis. Quite often we see testimonies of gear recovery through reporting it as stolen/missing and searching the web for new images associated to the reported gear. Now it has even expanded towards image misuse.

The idea is great and I’ve been willing to do it since I’ve heard about it an year or so ago. Then you get stuck at the “I have to enter the information, I have to prove it’s mine”. Your mind starts wandering even before you go to their site “How will I prove my very old lenses are mine? Do I need to send them a copy of the receipts?” and the thing gets put in the back-burner and sits there forever.

Some weeks ago there was a Photography Tips & Tricks episode where RC Concepcion talks about the mobile app of Lenstag and goes through the process. I was “It’s so easy! Why am I stalling to do that???”. So I installed the app and did the process.

– Enter the “Model Name”. It has some “auto-complete” thingy for models already in the system.
– Enter the “Serial Number”.
– Take a picture of the serial number and submit it.

That’s it! It stays in a pending status, waiting for verification on Lenstag (they check it somehow, no idea how) and in one or two days your status is updated to “verified”. In a couple of minutes I have registered camera body, lenses and speedlite. The most difficult part was taking a picture of lightly metal engraved serial numbers in very tiny font :-)

If you sell the gear, you generate a transfer key and give it to the buyer.

If you buy gear, check the serial if it’s not reported as missing/stolen, get the transfer key and take over the registration.

If you get robbed or lost gear, report it.

Haven’t had the opportunity of actually using the service (didn’t buy any used gear, found any on the street, or -luckily- got robbed recently), but the fact that it’s there and that it was so easy is already a relief, even if only for the fact that “my serial numbers are stored somewhere”.

Also haven’t had the change of going into the image search. Soon!

In summary. The idea is great, it’s giving good results, the execution is great, the use experience couldn’t be any easier and better! Just download the app and do it NOW! :-)

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The Nifty Fifty

A lot of new great software coming out these days!!

Last week I had to break this series to talk about the great release of Snapseed 2.0 and two days ago Adobe just released the newest version of Lightroom (Lightroom CC/Lightroom 6). I’ll try to talk about this upgrade next week, since I haven’t even had the chance to download it!!! But now the series continues :-)

After renting the 85mm f/1.8 and finding out it was not the lens I wanted at the moment, the search for a new Christmas gift took me to a 50mm. The question was 1.8 or 1.4?

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (source: Wikipedia)

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II (source: Wikipedia)

But wait a second, I already have a 50mm f/1.8. The Nikon Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF from 1986, to which I added a Nikon to Canon adaptor. It’s a great lens, almost no distortion, light, simple, robust build …

The problem is … taking pictures of kids with a 1.8 is not easy. They move! And with the very shallow depth of field, they get soft focused or even totally blurred while you’re taking the picture. Add to that the fact that the Nikon lens, when adapted to Canon has no auto-focus. Very honestly. Manual focus is not my thing (I’m modern :-) ), while taking pictures of kids manual focus becomes even harder!! I realized that, though I had a wonderful lens in my hands, I was not using it. So the 50mm came back to the options list.

I was impressed by the Ultrasonic Motor (USM) of the 85mm, how fast it would focus. The 50mm f/1.8 from Canon is simple, as simple as it gets. Plastic build, plastic mount, extremely light, no options but auto or manual focus. Not that the 50mm f/1.4 has many options, but is a great build, metal body, metal mount and USM focus motor. So I headed to my local photography shop and did a quick test to it. The 1.4 focus faster, but nothing that would make the 1.8 useless. I had borrowed the 1.8 from a friend once, and I also don’t recall being annoyingly slow. Also, by the price tag it has, if you don’t like it, just sell it on Ebay. So I decided to give it a try!

So, that was my Christmas gift last year! Now I find myself taking f/1.8 pictures of my kids in the leaving room! Still didn’t have time to set up another shooting, but it’s on the way. For now I just enjoy the very shallow depth of field. The background is not appealing (like shelves, or something like you find in the leaving room), but it gets so blurred that you can’t tell what it is, it’s just colors!! Of course 50% of shots are useless, since the kids move so fast, they are not sharp at all. But I have my fun!! :-)

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Phone photography and Snapseed 2

Some years ago I, before I got my interest back into photography, I use to carry a point-and-shoot around. dSLR’s were bulky and expensive (they did not change much, my opinion about those facts did ;-) ).

Snapseed 2.0

Snapseed 2.0

Then Nokia released the N97, that would be the best smartphone ever! It had a good camera (on specs) and I was wondering if it would be a replacement for my point-and-shoot. That was before the iPhone could take reasonable pictures, so before the “iPhonography”).

Well, the camera of the N97 had, first of all, a small problem. There was a sliding lens cover (good idea) and the flash would be just beside the lens and cover by a common glass layer. The sliding lens cover would scratch this glass causing internal reflection of the light from the flash and it would introduce a gradient of luminous contamination in your shots.

Camera was useless with flash, after the first month of use.

A bit latter I got my dSLR and my photography split in two types: the “I’m trying to take really nice shots” and the casual “I want to share this in social media, or email someone because it’s a funny/interesting thing”, but with no photographic interest, just a record of something.

The thing is that, since the beginning I Shoot Raw (paraphrasing Fro Knows Photo). And images need to be minimally processed (Lightroom basics, at least) and this requires time and a certain “mood”. You need to sit in front of the computer and actively do something. This doesn’t happen all that often, and when it does, I like to use it for what I consider the best photos of some trip, or walk. At the end, those “registers”, end up being left behind and mostly lost meaning, for not being used timely. Also, every shot from my dSLR ends in a double backup disk, plus a imported copy on Lightroom.

Meanwhile my wife kept using the point-and-shoot, we even had to buy a new one, because the old one died on us.

Then she’s got a Samsung Note II. From this moment on, those pictures start being taken directly with the phone and being shared immediately. A bit later I abandoned my N97 (the most disappointing phone ever, though robust) and got a Samsung S5, embarking on the shoot and share experience. This way images where being share timely (not many), making sense. Poor point-and-shoot, it’s feeling lonely :-)

Then comes the second part. Images from phone were missing this “notch up”, and that’s where Snapseed came along. It makes all the difference in the world. In a couple of minutes, you change your image and is able to share something nice.

Last week, Google has updated Snapseed in a considerable way (now 2.0). Just a week using and just a couple of tests, but the changes were great. The main things are still there (tonal adjustments, crop, align, sharpening). The two main changes for me are: adjustments are non-destructive and stackable and adjustment brushes.

Before you would apply one effect or filter (like the tonal adjustments) and “save”. Then you’d crop and “save”. No coming back. Now it creates a stack of what you did and you go back there and edit the settings and fine-tune what you did. No matter how deep in the stack it is. You can also apply adjustment brushes (that you paint with your finger ;-) ), where you change exposure, temperature, saturation, or you can dodge and burn.

The only “shame”, so far, is that we can clearly see that even though Snapseed and Android are Google products, people in there are thinking iOS first (“yeah, yeah, damm iOS … booooo” :-) ). I just would like to have the same features in both platforms and it surprises me that the iOS version has more features than the Android one. While the Android version “consolidates” all your edits into a jpg, when you save the file, the iOS version saves your processing stack, allowing you to go back later and tune your settings, a editable format. PLEASE, correct me if I’m wrong, but I could not file a way to save the stack in Android!!

Saw some complaints about some filters missing. I confess I haven’t missed then yet, and probably won’t since I never really used them before. It’s not a Lightroom in your phone, but it does a pretty good job giving some punch to your phone images.

There are already some tutorials and reviews on-line and you can have a good set of information on interview with Nils Kokemohr and on a free class that KelbyOne prepared about Snapseed.

Worth trying it.

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